Matrix Management

Global HR: the Business Partner and Specialist Matrix

Many global HR organizations have adopted the Ulrich model of specialists and HR business partners. In doing so they have introduced the complexities of matrix management into their HR organization, often without giving people the skills required to mange this form of working.

For specialists in the global HR organization there is still a strong functional reporting line but their internal customers the HR business partners are typically more numerous and demanding.

The HR business partners in the global HR organization are much more embedded in their client organizations. They sit on management teams and operational groups. They often support two or more organizations and find themselves stretched between the needs of their clients and the needs of the functional structure to drive HR projects and priorities.

Unfortunately each of these groups see their own objectives as most important and invite the HR business partner to their meetings and copy them on their emails. If a business partner explains that they do not need to be at every meeting this can be seen as a lack of loyalty.

(Read our 2005 article global division on how global HR people suffer divided loyalties more than other functions.)

These are some of the classic matrix challenges:

  • divided loyalties
  • competing (sometimes conflicting) priorities
  • too connected to get things done

The traditional remedies of working harder, more teamwork and more communication are either impossible (not enough time) or don’t seem to work. (Ed: See our article Less haste, more speed on these themes.)

In a matrix organization the structure itself solves nothing. It is the way people work together to operate the structure that makes it succeed or fail.

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